In a flashback to their happenings in the 80's, Spidey and the Torch were teased into an adventure breaking into the Wakandan Embassy by Felicia Hardy, the Black Cat. Spidey jumped to conclusions, and assumed Felicia returned to crime, while the Torch had a date for at least one evening. Johnny sees Felicia with both Peter Parker and Spider-Man, and ends the story jealous of both.
A major event in the life of Spider-Man happens in this issue!
The final chapter of this mini-series begins in the present day with the Human Torch meeting Spider-Man atop the Statue of Liberty, their usual meeting place over the years. (Their first meeting, shown in a rare flashback to Strange Tales Annual #2). The Torch has called the meeting, but kept Spidey waiting, prompting some verbal jabs. The two reminisce over how many years they've been meeting, and the crazy adventures they've had (including the new tales told over the previous four issues). Spider-Man has to correct Johnny as several of the team-ups were not with him, but his clone. Johnny asks Spidey how they're going to deal with the events of the day at Public School #108.
Flashback to the day's adventure. At Peter Parker's place of employment, P.S. 108, Pete's lesson is interuppted by the guest appearance of the Human Torch. Johnny shows up at the assembly, and begins his show. The jaded students don't appear as stunned as they did back when Pete was in high school, and the Torch did a inspirational talk. The kids eyes are averted from Johnny as the famous supermodel Mary Jane Watson-Parker walks up to Pete to hand-deliver his forgotten lunch. The Torch has been upstaged, and is shocked to learn that Pete is MJ's husband.
Suddenly, Johnny is cracked in the back of the head by the back end of an automatic rifle. Several men surround the auditorium. Leading the assault is Carmine Villanova of the Maggia Crime family. Storm and D.A. Tower sent his son Nino to jail. Now, Nino has been killed trying to escape prison. Carmine shows Johnny a picture of Blake Tower's son, Luke, who goes to school at P.S. 108. Carmine's men search the audiotorium looking for Luke, but Luke now has a shaved head, contact lenses, and piercings.
Johnny and Pete silently scheme how to get out of this one. Pete decides he needs Johnny's help, and makes the webshooting pose with his fingers. Johnny finally gets it. Then he makes a wall-crawling motion with his hands...and then points to himself. Johnny thinks, "No. NO!" while Peter smiles. Now's his jealously of Peter Parker and rivalry with Spider-Man has combined into a grumbling resentment of a single person! Spidey signals that he'll web up a henchman on a ledge. Johnny sneezes a flame as a diversion and blinds everyone with a nova burst. Guided by his spider-sense, Pete is able to shoot a web to knock the gun out from the henchman. Pete slips away, while everyone's eyesight recovers. The Torch superheats Carmine's gun, while Spidey crashes through the window. The kids clear out, while Spidey and the Torch take care of the crooks. Luke reunites with his dad outside, while MJ covers for Pete's disappearance. Johnny tells the cops that he's lucky he had a good friend to watch his back. The Torch leaves, and writes a flaming message to Spidey to meet at the usual spot.
And so, the story picks up where it began. Johnny can't belive it's Peter Parker. He asks who else knows, and Spidey starts down the list...including mention of the time in the park with Power Man and Reed Richards, when they confronted Daredevil (DD Vol. 2 #56 - Dr. Strange was with them too.) Johnny can't believe Reed knew, and thinks he's being "Punked" by Ashton Kutcher. When he tries to pull Spidey's mask off, Spidey reveals that he now uses his powers to keep the mask stuck to his face.
Johnny is stunned with jealousy. How can one guy have it all? He thinks of his brains, his powers, kindly Aunt May raising him, being a hotshot photographer, the beautiful women... Meanwhile, Pete laughs! He thinks Johnny has it all - clothes, fast cars, adoring fans, fantastic adventures, and the powers. Pete says, "You've got all this power - and no responsibility." They shake hands with a departing "gotcha!" as Spidey leaves Johnny with a handfull of gooey organic webbing. Despite teh prank, a new chapter in their friendship begins.
What follows is a really poignant well-written scene that's a milestone in the personal life of Peter Parker.
The Torch invites Pete, MJ, and Aunt May to come over to have dinner with the Fantastic Four at the Baxter Building. Sue Storm picks them up in an invisible jet, and they join the family in the main residence. While Aunt May plays with baby Valeria, MJ and Sue talk fashion secrets. Ben tells Franklin that Peter's the guy who took the pictures of Spider-Man for the Daily Bugle. When Franklin asks Spidey who's his favorite bad guy, he shows him a Human Torch action figure. Reed takes some photos, and has his cam-bot store this and all future pictures of the Parkers under "Friends and Family." The story ends with some assorted snapshots taken later on at the pool, during poker night, exchanging Christmas presents, taking a trip to the Macroverse, and ends with Pete and Johnny wearing "I'm with Stupid" t-shirts.
This is a story that has been overdue, and I'm glad to see it finally done -a nd done well. With all of the Marvel Universe knowing Spider-Man's secret identity these days, I always believed it made the most sense for the Human Torch to know. They have a long history of teaming-up, and have always made for fun and interesting chemistry. Despite the rivalry and pranks, the Torch
There were a few bloopers, however. Before the Torch arrives at P.S. 108, Pete refers to a time when the Torch showed up at his high school in Queens. They ARE at his high school in Queens! Midtown High is now called by it's Public School numbering, P.S. 108. and it was a major plot point in JMS's Spider-Man that Pete went back to work at his old high school. See Amazing Spider-Man Vol.2 #31 (aka Vol.1 #472) entitled "Coming Home". District Attorney Blake Tower aged horribly. Last we saw him in a Spider-Man comic was, I believe, Spider-Man #60 and Amazing Spider-Man #403. He was always portrayed somewhere in his 30s with plenty of blonde hair. Now he's mostly bald and had aged considerably! Also, Demogoblin would not have been around when Ben Reilly was in the Spidey costume. Also I don't see the how or why Quasimodo would rebuild the Spider-Armor made from Spidey's webbing in Web of Spider-Man #100 after it was broken into pieces by the New Enforcers?
Besides that, the ending sequence is a real gem. I've read somewhere in discussion about the Ultimate Spider-Man universe, how the secret identity between Peter and MJ is dissolved early in the plot to better reflect the way things are today in society. This generation is less apt to keep secrets, and more likely to confide in friends. We've living in a communication age, where there are anonymous chatrooms you can visit to bare your soul. It's less relevant today to be in isolation. In the main Spider-Man continuity, those walls have been broken down - first by Mary Jane in the 80's, followed by Daredevil and Wolverine to a much lesser extent. Despite the number of years now that Spider-Man's secret has been with these two heroes, there has been very little friendship. Another major wall came down when Aunt May discovered the truth. As an Avenger, there seems to be opportunity for letting his guard down among his super-powered peers - but I haven't seen it happen yet. Spidey's mostly been playing more of a guarded joker in the team. But now, Dan Slott has opened a door to a whole new experience of friendship between Spidey and the Torch - and the rest of the Fantastic Four. I think the stories are ripe with possibilities. Yes, I have nostalgia for the stories where Spidey is a lone misunderstood hero fighting crime in a city that mocks and despises him. But in the evolution of the character, this is a welcome growth point in my opinion.
I'm a sucker for a Spidey story with a lot of heart that delve into Peter Parker's personal world. MJ's revealation to Pete in ASM #257-259. Jenkins' last tale in Spectacular Spider-Man #27, or "The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man" in Amazing Spider-Man #248.
Maybe because Spidey is kicked around and dumped upon so often, I look forward to a relief issue. I had some plans of my own to submit a 6-part story to Marvel where Spidey would reveal his identity to Johnny Storm at the end - by Dan Slott beat me to it by about 6 months! It was a great way to end the mini- series. It could've been capped by one more wisecrack ending - but instead closed with a major turning point. Spidey's family just grew in size. I hope to see future writers tap into this event, unlike other major plotlines that have been forgotten recently (most especially Spider-Man's new improved strength, high definition spider-sense, and organic webbing).
Ty Templeton did another fine job with the visuals. His art flows well panel to panel, with balance between details and smooth simple lines. Sometimes, I thought the inking was a bit heavy. But the artwork was appropriate - there's no need for Alex Ross paintings here. I thought this miniseries was well served by the more classic simple style of the 60's and 70's.
I dropped a half web for the continuity bloopers and the look of D.A. Tower.